Sunday, June 24, 2012
The New Adult Project: "Ready Player One," by Ernest Cline
It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
Imagine if first book of The Hunger Games was written by Tyra Banks or Kim Kardashian. In some ways, that's what Ready Player One is like. Except that instead of fashion and celebrity culture, Ready Player One is about nerd-dom. People live their entire lives on the internet, playing video games and going on quests. And since the real world has gone to hell, that gives them a perfect excuse to do so.
In other words, this book is a nerd's wet dream.
It's not that Ernest Cline doesn't explore the disadvantages of a plugged-in world. He does, but in a very shallow way. The fact is, he himself is very much a nerd. And this book was meant for nerds. People identify with Wade, (at least at first) because he is a nerd. He's even teased in school!*
But the thing about nerd-dom in this society is that, thanks to the contest, it has become fairly mainstream. And Wade never struck me as the kind of guy who can form his own opinions. Everything he loves is exactly what Halliday loved. Never once does he say "I have no idea why Halliday was such a big fan of ______, because it's utter crap." No, his success comes through his l33t haxor skillz and his religious obsession with all things Halliday.
I consider myself a nerd, but that doesn't mean I love every aspect of nerd culture. I don't understand why everyone loves Dune, for example. Sure, the worldbuilding's good, but just about every good character is a Mary- or Gary-Sue. And there is something very problematic about the trope where the locals need am outsider to lead them to victory against their oppressors. Also, D&D. Many of my college friends played D&D. They wouldn't leave the dorms on the weekends, because the game was such a high priority, and they would talk about the events of their campaign as if it were real life.
Granted, Wade's obsession with nerd-dom and the OASIS is a result of the world he grew up in, so for that reason, it's forgiveable. And I do think his feelings of loneliness were well written, even if other aspects of the book weren't.
But there were other issues. The prose was far too expository. The book starts with a huge infodump about the state of the world. While this is all stuff that's important to know, I think Cline should have had more faith in his readers to figure some stuff out on their own. Also, the voice meant that a lot of Wade's emotions didn't come through very well. As I mentioned above, the feeling of loneliness that Wade experienced midway through the book was okay, but other things just felt static. Wade never seemed to feel grief, even when someone close to him (or at least someone who should have been close to him) died. Also, making your villains more evil does not make your main character more sympathetic. And I'm sick of the "girl who thinks she's hideous even though she's not" trope. Seriously, the way Art3mis was so self-conscious about meeting Wade in person, I was expecting something serious, like quadriplegia or progeria, not an ugly birthmark.
Still, although I don't consider this a "good" book, it was very much a fun book. By the end, I was so wrapped up in the epicness that I didn't want to put it down. And although it was the sort of ending that should have been really cheesy, I was never bothered by it.
If you like epic stuff and nerd culture, and aren't bothered by expository prose, I would recommend this book for you.
*The book starts when Wade is nearing the end of his high school career, but for the most part, it does take place while he is a "New Adult."
Full list of New Adult Project reviews